Thursday, September 3, 2009

139. Express yourself in 140 characters

I often wondered why anyone would care what I was doing. Unable to answer that question, not only for myself, but nearly everyone else, I did not understand what was so exciting about "Twitter," one of the latest technological phenomenons. My opinion was somewhat confirmed by SuperNews!, who satirized Twitter as an addiction to "constant self-affirmation" and said tweets were nothing more than "shouts into the darkness hoping someone is listening." This addiction has even lead friends to ask each other to stop twittering things like what they had for lunch.

Still, I thought there must be something to it. Like MySpace, Face Book. LinkedIn and the other social networks, it had caught on like gangbusters. The only thing that even offered a semblance of making sense was the fact that I noticed that most people, within a moment or two of answering their cell phone, ask the caller, "Where you at?" It later became a slogan for one of the cell phone companies, and now is at least somewhat related to the twitter question, "What are you doing?"

So, I wandered over to the website, signed up in three easy steps, and answered the question, "What are you doing?" At the time, I was on my way to my niece's graduation party, and answered the question appropriately and honestly. But I again thought...who really cares. For although I was quite excited about her party, most anyone that would care what I was doing-knew what I was doing, because, well, they were doing the same thing.

The premise of twitter is not only to "tweet" what you are doing from time to time, but to also "follow" those people that you might care to know what they are doing. In fact, this is the reason that most people join- to follow their friends, the news, social organizations, sports teams or famous people.

In that respect, Twitter is more than just, "What are you doing?" It is a combination instant/text messaging and email-available by computer or phone-to potentially millions of people. Moreover, these people, these followers, have decided that they want to hear your tweet (rather than the random folks I bother with emails).

Twitter is now used by newspapers and media to provide updates of new events; it is also used as a news reporting system-as we saw in the election in Iran. It is also used for political news; it is regularly used by Sarah Palin- and Barack Obama used to it to announce his Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Biden. For those who like stars, many actors and actresses use twitter, most famously Ashton Kutcher-who has over two million followers. Athletes use it, including the Cavaliers' Mo Williams and Shaquille O'Neal, to communicate with their fans. Finally, it is used by advocacy organizations, and even scientists. In fact, Richard Dawkins (or his people) send regular messages with links to very interesting scientific articles.

It is short and quick, no more than 140 characters, about the size of a text message. It can be powerful, imagine immediately communicating with millions of people. It can be funny or sad. It can also be informative and interesting. One thing for sure is that it is up-to-date.

In continuum of writing, twitter offers short offbeat comments or opinions, blogs offer about 200-400 words of thought, columns are usually about 500-700 words and usually include some background, and, of course, books are as long as necessary and provide in depth detail.

So check it out; it is quick to sign up, easy to understand and simple to use. It works well with either a phone or computer. In just a couple of moments a day, you can find out all sorts of things, from all sorts of people and all kinds of sources. If you try it, look me up: If you have read my column before, you know that I always something to say.

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